European Championships: Four Northern Ireland rowers to contest finals in Varese

Rebecca Shorten (centre) won the pairs event with partner Rowan McKellar at the recent Great Olympic Olympic trials
Rebecca Shorten (centre) is one of four NI rowers who have qualified for finals in Varese

Four Northern Ireland rowers will contest finals on Sunday at the European Championships in Varese.

Rebecca Shorten stroked the Great Britain women's four to a win in Saturday's repechage to join her team mates Hannah Scott, Holly Nixon and Rebecca Edwards in racing for medals.

However world silver medallists Philip Doyle and Ronan Byrne missed out on a place for Ireland in the men's double sculls final. The Banbridge/Cork combination finished a disappointing last in their semi-final.

The event in Italy is the first regatta the GB squad has competed in since the 2019 World Championships because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Shorten crew make final

The new combination in the women's four, Shorten, Karen Bennett, Harriet Taylor and Rowan McKellar finished second in their heat behind the Netherlands on Friday, forcing them into the repechage.

After taking the lead from Romania after 500m they held on to the line, holding off a furious battle between the Romanians and Ukraine for the second place available for the final.

Among the crews they will meet are the Irish quartet of Aifric Keogh, Eimear Lambe, Fiona Murtagh and Emily Hegarty who were very impressive in winning their heat by eight seconds from Russia.

The Irish boat has not yet qualified for the Tokyo Olympics but will hope to do so at the final qualifying regatta in Lucerne next month.

Disappointment for Doyle

Doyle and Byrne were making their first appearance together since winning the silver medal at the World Championships in Linz in September 2019 during which time Doyle had returned to his job as a doctor during the Covid-19 pandemic.

After a final sprint in their heat had come up just short, losing out to Russia, they faced a second race on Friday in the repechage where they finished behind Serbia forcing them into an outside lane for the semi-final.

However they were dropped off the start and although they battled back to fourth place at the halfway stage they were a long way behind the top three boats led by France.

There would be no second half recovery and they were tailed off in sixth place and will now race in Sunday's 'B' final.

Hannah Scott
Hannah Scott is a product of the successful Bann Rowing Club

Coleraine's Hannah Scott made an impressive senior debut for Great Britain on Friday as the 21-year-old alongside Mathilda Hodgkins-Byrne, Charlotte Hodgkins-Byrne and Lucy Glover, won their heat in the women's quadruple sculls.

The quartet pulled away from the defending champions Netherlands in the second half of the race to clinch the only automatic place for Sunday's final.

Scott, who is a World double-silver medal winner for GB at under-23 level, was studying at Princeton University, where she is a member of their highly successful collegiate rowing programme, when the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic happened.

There was also a successful return to action for Holly Nixon. The Enniskillen rower made her comeback after a long-term illness for the first time since winning a world championship bronze in 2017 and along with partner Saskia Budgett they finished second in their heat of the women's double sculls, behind the Netherlands, to move directly to the final.

With only six entries in the women's eight the crews raced for lanes in Sunday's final. The Great Britain boat, including 27 year-old Rebecca Edwards from Aughnacloy in County Tyrone, finished in fourth place but just three-tenths of a second behind Russia.

Among the other Irish crews to make finals are Rio 2016 silver medallist Paul O'Donovan and Fintan McCarthy who are favourites to win the lightweight men's double sculls.

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